Thermal Contenders in no particular order:
Ultra-Chill Silver Thermal & Silicone Thermal Brush On
Ultra-Chill Diamond Thermal Brush On
Ultra-Chill Silver Thermal Tube
Ultra-Chill Diamond Thermal Tube
HE Grease Extreme
Artic Silver 5
Artic Silver Ceramique
Grey Ice 4200
Quantum Thermal Grease
Thermal Compound Testing Parameters:
First off, I would like to thank all the companies and representatives for sending in a sample to test, forty thermal compound producing companies were presented an opportunity to participate in this roundup, by submitting a testing sample, by them submitting a test sample, they were also giving their permission to be included in this testing.
Unless stated on the packaging, each compound was allowed a 2 hour seat in time period, compounds that require extremely long cure in times like for example Artic Silver, were not allowed that time, therefore those type compounds performance results, will generally improve from the listed scores, once they are fully cured.
Air Cooling tests:
Air Cooled Testing was done with a Thermalright 120 Extreme Cooler, using one 1600 rpm Thermalright 120mm fan with ambient room temperature controlled, to 23c + or – .5, if those parameters for any reason were exceeded, the test for that TIM was completely rerun.
The 120mm fan was purposely mounted on the backside of the cooler, in a pull setup, allowing unrestricted air flow through the heat sink, and any heat from the fan running not being a factor. A 120mm air supply fan was mounted 5” away from the front of the heat sink to supply fresh air to be pulled into the cooling fins.
The air cooling tests were run on an AMD 965 Black Edition CPU overclocked to 3800mhz, I could have used a higher overclock but most in the forum overclocking the 965BE are getting in this range on an overall average.
B/O = Brush On
Cool Laboratory takes the crown at 41C with both it's Liquid Pro and Liquid Ultra and there's an 8 way tie for non electrically conductive Top Honors all scoring a load temperatures of 42C, it's amazing how close the end results with all these thermal compounds actually is, when they are all identically tested.
Water Cooling Tests:
Water Cooled Testing was done with all testing parameters equal, same Swiftech pump speed for all tests, same high flow RASA water block, same water block clamping pressure, water temperature itself was ice controlled with a thermal mass of 8 gallons of water in a 54qt cooler as the reservoir, in these tests, ambient room temperature had absolutely no effect.
Water load testing was begun at 15.0c and the 2500K at 4500mhz can actually raise the 8 gallon thermal mass to 15.5c in a 20 minute time period, some of the lesser performing TIMs would not get to 15.5c, simply because they did not transfer the heat to the water block as efficiently as the better performers did.
So water cooling wise all the tested TIM had the same equal opportunity to be tested under the same circumstances, so what’s being measured is how well each TIM thermally conducts the heat, under the exact same testing parameters.
The water cooling tests were run using an Intel 2500K overclocked to 4500mhz, as with the air cooling I could have used a higher overclock, but many are averaging getting 4500mhz from their Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs.
B/O = Brush On
Tim Tronics Grey Ice 4200, Prolimatech Prolima PK-1, and Spire Bluefrost SP-803, share the Crown in these tests all scoring 42C load temperatures, with 5 top honors scoring 43C. This testing is about how well the thermal compound you choose to invest your money in, will conduct the heat from the CPU heat spreader to the heat sink cooling solution, under the exact same situations.
Note: Regarding AiTs Cool Silver Pad, and Cool Gelfilm SZ, better results will be attained using a standard water cooling loop setup, because my water block was always chilled well below ambient room temperature, which affected the melting and seating of the films, a standard water cooling loop block would have higher temperatures to seat the films, resulting in better performance as the air cooling results clearly shows.
Idle temperatures were taken after 10 min of Prime95s completed stress run, load temperature was taken after 20 min of Prime95 small FFTs stress test, the 4 core results in each test was averaged together for a single test score result.
Warning: The Coollaboratory Liquid Pro and Liquid Ultra were not run on my Intel 2500K water testing simply because I had no intentions of loosing my CPUs 3yr warranty, removing those liquid metal thermal compounds is an undertaking, which will cost you your warranty.
The packages clearly state warnings that the products are electrically conductive, are not to be used on aluminum, and will void your warranty, once I saw the results of removing it from the 965BE, I decided not to run it on my 2500K, the package contents has the TIM in a syringe, application instructions, 2 application brushes, 1 alcohol pad, and 1 abrasive cleaning pad.
This is a Link to a picture of the condition of my AMD 965BE after removal of the liquid metal compounds, you can obviously see the warranty is definitely gone.
However giving them their due, they are the best performers, they need to be applied with extreme care, and with the foreknowledge your warranty is gone, I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to remove, but if you're not concerned about your warranty, and you're after the absolutely best performer you can get your hands on, from the results this is it.
Removal Rating: (In no particular order)
Artic Cooling Artic MX-4
Prolimatech Prolima PK-1
Tim Consultants Quantum
Artic Silver 5
Artic Silver Ceramique
Phobya HE Grease Extreme
Tim Tronics Silver Ice 710NS (Electrically Conductive)
Tim Tronics Grey Ice 4100LV
Spire Bluefrost SP-803
Tim Tronics Grey Ice 4200
Alphacool Silver Grease
SIIG all five of the Ultra Chill line (Be careful removing the Diamond Thermal, Tube and Brush On)
AiT Cool Grease ZX
Ait Cool Gelfilm SZ
AiT Cool Silver Pad
Coollaboratory Liquid Pro (Electrically Conductive and not to be used on an Aluminum Heat Sink)
Coollaboratory Liquid Ultra (Electrically Conductive and not to be used on an Aluminum Heat Sink)
Note: Any of the Liquid Metal Thermal Compounds will eat aluminum like acid was poured on it, unless specified, so you cannot use this type thermal solution on the popular heat pipe direct touch coolers, like the Xigmatek, Cooler Master Hyper 212+, etc., etc.
People are always asking how to remove the thermal compound, I used 70% isopropyl alcohol swabs (the type used to sterilize the skin before an injection they contain 70% isopropyl alcohol and sterile water), to pre-clean, then Artic Clean to follow up and prep for the next thermal application.
After having to lapp my AMD CPU heat spreader, I cannot in good conscience recommend the Liquid metal type thermal compounds, seeing as how they only yielded a 1C performance gain, the warranty trade off and being electrically conductive and not useable on aluminum heatsinks, is just not worth the risk when there are so many safer options available.
In all actuality the top 2/3rds of the listings performance wise are really too close in their load scores to be concerned about, some of the top 6 besides the Liquid Metal line, look almost identical in appearance, same color, same consistency, same easy cleanup, same great performance, there are some really good thermal products available today, and they will get the job done for you!
The top water cooling leaders, Prolimatech Prolima PK-1, Tim Tronics Grey Ice 4200, and Spire Bluefrost SP-803, stand out over the rest, of the contenders. My choice for the Best of the Best, is Tim Tronics Grey Ice 4200, the application of it was almost like the heat spreader was pulling it off the applicator, it was easy to spread, went on smooth and even, and cleans up easy too.